Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Suwarrow - August 26 - Sept. 1

We finally said goodbye to Bora Bora, the French language, and fine cheese and wine – with no regrets - at 0730 on August 21, after waiting several days for some wind. The passage to Suwarrow in the Cook Islands was about 700 miles. We anticipated five days and we were right on the money, arriving in the anchorage at 0900 on August 26. That’s five days, five nights, 24/7, under way, with the exception of 2 hours hove to waiting for morning light before we attempted to enter the pass into Suwarrow lagoon.

A passage that length is a lot like driving across the US nonstop. Monotonous, arduous and at times uncomfortable, expecially when doing the things you stop for on the auto trip (eating, going to the bathroom, refueling). Ticking off the hours and the mileage and doing endless rounds of algebra in your head: if the boat continues at 6 knots per hour how long will it take us to reach our destination? What if we make 6.5 knots? What if it’s only 5 knots? Will we beat the boat that is a few miles ahead of us? Behind us?

The positives of this passage were nice weather, fair winds on the beam or from behind, and ongoing radio communications with other boats making the same passage . The negative was confused seas, which made Tom and me a bit queasy at times, made sleep an athletic activity, and led a few of the women on other boats to compare the passage to childbirth (awful but you forget about it as soon as you arrive at your destination).

And talk about a destination: Suwarrow was summer camp for cruisers, the favorite landing of many who have been cruising the seven seas for years. Cook Islands’ only national park, it is an atoll with a lagoon that is about 11 miles wide. Years ago it was inhabited by a Kiwi named Tom Neale who wrote a popular book about his experience on this lonely place in the middle of the ocean called An Island to Oneself. There is a main island where now Ranger John, his wife Veronica, and their four sons Jeremiah, Jonathan, Augustino and Giovanni live for about six months of the year. They maintain a jetty and a picnic area, lead guided tours of the atoll’s highlights, and show visitors the best snorkeling, fishing techniques and environmental practices (including how to cope with the lively sharks in the lagoon that love fish offal but have not attacked any people).

With 10 - 20 boats in the anchorage, every night was party night on the beach featuring a potluck dish and communal catch of the day (John’s rule: if you caught fish, you shared) – marlin, mahi mahi, grouper, and more. John welcomed the newcomers, said goodbye to those leaving, said grace, shared his experiences, and made us part of the family. We shared his deep emotion when an Australian family who had come to the island two years ago returned to the island – a first for John . Sailor-musicians from the US, Norway, Austria and Germany joined together for afternoon rehearsals and evening performances and jamming. We were avid participants in the music scene with Tom on vocals and harmonica and both of us on our portable collection of percussion instruments.


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